Eating more plant foods will benefit your child is so many ways. Its not about excluding foods or restriction. Its about abundance and diversity! Eating 30 plant foods is a goal, and achieving something is all about goal setting. Get your child involve in counting the plant foods and help them help you to achieve it!
Why is it important to eat variety of plant foods?
This is a short list of the reasons, there are so many more!
One of the best things you can do for your gut bacteria is feed them lots and lots of different plant foods. More diverse diet equals more diverse microbiome.
There is a positive assoication between eating a bigger range of fruits and vegetables and better mental health,
Encouraging children to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes also ensures they receive a broad spectrum of nutrients necessary for their growth and development.
What counts as a ‘plant food’?
Fruits: Apples, oranges, bananas, berries, grapes, melons, and other fruits
Vegetables: Leafy greens (spinach, kale, lettuce), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower), root vegetables (carrots, potatoes), caspcium, tomatoes and other vegetables
Whole Grains: Foods like brown rice, quinoa, oats, barley, whole wheat. Not fake brown bread.
Legumes: Beans (black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas), lentils, and peas
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and other nuts and seeds
Root Vegetables and starchy vegetables: Sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, pumpkin and parsnip
Herbs and Spices: While not consumed in large quantities, herbs and spices like basil, coriander, oregano, cinnamon, and turmeric
Plant-Based Oils: Olive oil, avocado oil, and other plant-based oils
Plant-Based Protein Sources: Tofu, tempeh
How to increase a child’s plant food intake
1. Add some plant foods at breakfast. I would say most kids don’t eat any plant foods at breakfast, which is a missed opportunity. Nuts, seeds and legumes are all plant foods and can slip pretty easily into breakfast without much drama. Use a coffee grinder of food processor to grind up some linseeds, hazelnuts, almonds, chia seeds and sunflower seeds. Add this to your child’s porridge or cereals. Start with a teaspoon and increase overtime. Or serve some lentil bread or paleo bread instead of normal bread. If your child likes smoothies, make a smoothie with banana, zucchini and mango, but also add in the ground up nuts and seeds. Using these tips and tricks you can easily get 4 plant foods in at breakfast.
2. Pack a selection of vegetables for munch and crunch. Don’t let your child eat the same old cucumber stick on repeat. Send the cucumber sticks, but slip in some extras. Add a cherry tomato. A carrot stick. Some red, yellow or green capsicum. Sure, it might be a boomerang carrot initially and come straight home, but ultimately it might get eaten. Your child will never eat a vegetable they are not exposed to! And if they don’t eat it, what is the cost of a single cherry tomato? Suggestions for veggies to go in munch and crunch: carrots, red capsicum, green capsicum, snow peas, cherry tomatoes, yellow capsicum, cucumber, celery. Do enough for all your kids for a few days, and it’s not hard to add all this variety. And there is 7 plant foods already!!
3. Pack a selection of fruit to send to school. Instead of just sending an apple every day, buy a selection of fruits and make a fruit salad. Fruits that don’t need to be cut are great as they don’t feel ‘wet’, but unfortunately they are also the more expensive ones. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries make a very easy fruit salad. For the more budget conscious, things like melon can be more economical. You could buy watermelon, rockmelon, honeydew melon and throw in some peeled and chopped orange. That would be 4 plant foods.
4. Add some veggies to the sandwich – a few slices of lettuce, some pickles or avocado. Lunches are hard. Especially primary school kids who want to spend their lunch break playing handball not sitting down to eat (who can blame them). So there might be minimal chance for plant foods here, but even a tiny bit is better than none.
5. If you send a packaged snack to school, chose an option that is more wholefood and unprocessed. I really like the chickpeas or fava beans. Freeze dried fruit is a good lunchbox option. Or nori sheets are great as they are a sea vegetable!
6. Afterschool snacks are an awesome opportunity because your child is starving and you don’t have to make snacks nut free. You can bake muffins and cookies using almond meal or hazel nut meal as a base, but you can also just serve straight nuts – no food preparation required. Buy a selection: almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias, cashews, pistachios and walnuts. Serve a different nut everyday with some fruit. Notice how nuts fill your child up compared to high carb snacks, and how they will annoy you less for the next few hours due to hunger!
7. Dinner time. Switch the white rice or white pasta for something which is going to contribute to your plant food challenge. Wholegrains like brown rice are good, as is a pseudo-grain like quinoa. Starchy veggies like potato, sweet potato, parsnip, carrot and pumpkin will provide the carbohydrate and ‘fill factor’ your child needs, but are unprocessed plant foods.
8. Dessert. Try some frozen berries, a bliss ball or a homemade oat cookie.
9. If 1-8 is all to hard right now, start with a prebiotic supplement. Something like Galacto-oligosaccharide or Partially Hydrolysed Guar Gum are prebiotics, so they feed the good bacteria, just like plant foods. But they are white tasteless powders. Thing of these as a stepping stone to start to gentle work on your child’s microbiome which will lead to more acceptance of plant foods in the long run.
10. Focus, but don’t stress. If your child doesn’t eat any veggies, don’t give up. Try increasing diversity of other plant foods. Many children will identify as fussy eaters, as they have heard them described that way so often. Part of their identity is ‘not eating veggies’. So park veggies for now and instead increase diversity of wholegrains and seeds. You would be amazed how many little clients will eat not fruit or veg but happily eat pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.
If you need help with your child and getting them to eat anything mentioned here, make an appointment with one of the team at The Paediatric Naturopath.